By Joyce Bibey
What started as a simple money maker 20 years ago has kept the Polish spirit of a Northern Panhandle parish alive and well.
In 1999, when Pastor Kent Durig approached the Sacred Heart of Mary Parish Council to raise money for renovations to the worship space, Betty Fiedorczyk didn’t hesitate to offer her help coordinating Lenten dinners to be held on Wednesdays during Lent. Wednesdays specifically, so the church wouldn’t have any other competition.
The fundraising effort was named the Sacred Heart of Mary’s Preserve our Proud Heritage Capital Campaign. It was intended to last three years. However, after the funds needed were collected through the dinners and pledges, the volunteers chose to continue the Polish inspired dinners because they were so popular and created a strong fellowship.
“A lot goes into having the Lenten dinners, but it’s fun,” Fiedorczyk said. “Most of us have been volunteering all 20 years. It’s a chance for us to celebrate as a church community and a Polish community. Plus, it’s good food made with love.”
Fiedorczyk has been a member of Sacred Heart of Mary since she was married in 1957. Her husband, the late Stanley Fiedorczyk, grew up in the Polish parish.
The menu features the typical fish sandwiches and fries but is complimented by Polish “comfort food” like haluski (cabbage and noodles) and pierogi.
“More than 20 volunteers (The Holy Family Guild) get together at least three times before Ash Wednesday to make our homemade pierogi,” she said.
This year the group made 8,200 potato pierogi and 5,000 sauerkraut pierogi.
Lifelong Sacred Heart of Mary parishioner Irene Crago said volunteering for the Polish Lenten dinners is a priority.
“It is time well spent,” Crago said. “It’s not a sacrifice, when you know all the good that comes out of it. We are helping our church, but we are also passing on our Polish family traditions we have had in this community for generations. Making pierogi is a family affair. Here it’s a fun extended family assembly line.”
Crago fondly recalls her days as a student of Sacred Heart of Mary School, where Polish was spoken almost as much as English. The school was staffed with religious sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a Franciscan congregation.
“I remember standing in class to read aloud in Polish,” she said. “I was so proud of that.”
During Crago’s school days it was common for the grade school to have lessons in Polish language and history. The Polish National Alliance, a fraternal organization in the community, taught several generations, and has sponsored many events for the church.
Parish Office Manager Christina Kolb said the church’s Polish centered activities also include a special Mass in Polish at Christmas, a special evening to sing traditional Christmas songs in Polish, and their Annual Polish Picnic for the parish with food made by The Holy Family Guild.
According to Theresa Vidas’s historical synopsis in the parish’s Centennial Jubilee Album, the mission of Sacred Heart of Mary has always been to “nurture, preserve, and spread the faith of Jesus Christ, a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the worship traditions of our Polish-Catholic ancestors.”
The Polish-Catholic immigrants who eventually were founding members of Sacred Heart of Mary Parish came to northern West Virginia in the 1880s. Missionary priests served the area and Masses were celebrated in the various homes. It wasn’t until 1911 that Father Mathias Madert, was appointed to serve the region as the resident priest of a combined community of that would temporarily be called Ss. Peter and Paul Church. He spoke several languages fluently including Polish. He was familiar to the communities since he had served in the mission congregations since 1907.
In 1915, the congregation was divided into two — St. Michael the Archangel, serving the Catholics of Polish descent; and the other St. Paul, serving the remaining Catholics who were mainly Irish and Italian. Father M. Pawlowski was assigned the Polish parish. A year later the St. Michael the Archangel changed its name to Sacred Heart of Mary Church; and in 1917 the parish opened a grade school. The parish and school were located downtown on “F” Avenue and eventually relocated to Preston Avenue in Weirton Heights, where it remains today.
Weirton Parish’s Lenten Dinners are a Glimpse of Proud Polish Heritage
By Joyce Bibey